Lucky Cancer

Carol ReedGuest blogger Carol Reed shares the story of when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was compelled to write this piece on the fifth anniversary of her diagnosis, November 16, 2015. Each woman’s ovarian cancer story is unique, and Carol emphasizes that she speaks only for herself. This is her experience.

After my surgery, I lie in the recovery room.  The veil of sedation still hangs heavy, but a wisp of consciousness floats by.  I remember that I had just had a hysterectomy—or maybe I hadn’t.  It all depended on whether the biopsy of the mass on my ovary was benign or malignant.  Days earlier, my gynecologic/oncology surgeon, Dr. Elise Everett, had sorted the medical clues into two columns—Probably Cancer and Probably not Cancer.  The columns were the same length… I was given a 50-50 chance of having ovarian cancer.

Now I wonder:  Do I have ovarian cancer?  Though unable to open my eyes or to speak, I can hear.  The two nurses nearby speak softly.  But one word cuts through my brain fog and sears my brain: “staging.”  I know that is a cancer word.  I realize that there may be other patients in the room, or that the nurses may be talking about someone else.  But I feel that the word is probably for me.  Now I know. Then I drift back into the land of unknowing.

I semi-awaken in my hospital room, with my husband Elbert sitting by my bed.  He seems happy.  His words spill out:  the doctor says that I have cancer but that I am lucky.  Huh?  How can the words cancer and lucky be in the same sentence?  He says that the doctor thinks I am lucky because it may be stage 1.  My brain is functional enough to translate that into a simple statement:  I will probably live.  My mind and soul and body settle into a cycling prayer of five words of immense gratitude:  Thank you God.  Stage one. Thank you God.  Stage one.  I feel calm and comforted.

Soon Dr. Everett enters the room and speaks that odd sentence with both “cancer” and “lucky” in it.  I feel her intensity, an almost-excitement, as she explains how seldom she sees ovarian cancer at this early stage.  She recalls two other instances where scans for unrelated medical concerns revealed an accidental discovery of a mass on an ovary—a woman who had a stroke, and a woman who had been in a car accident.

Before long, lab results push me into a Stage 2C diagnosis.  That may affect my survival statistics, but it doesn’t affect my haunting memory of the day that guided me onto a different life path, five years ago today.